The Observatory

Demystifying technology for blind or low vision users – Vision Australia

Vision Australia’s national assistive technology advisor David Woodbridge has helped thousands of people overcome their technology fears. He details his best tips to get a user who is blind or has low vision open to trying new devices and gadgets.

How many times have you tried using a new gadget and just given up because you think, oh it’s too hard?

Imagine that feeling when you can’t see.

Working at Vision Australia for 30 years, I’ve seen competent, positive people turn into frustrated messes as they come across a tiny problem with a new gadget or piece of technology.

“It’s not working” … “I can’t do it” …. “It’s frozen” … “Can you just do it for me?”

When you’ve been told most of your life because of your disability, you can’t do things, it can be quite easy to give up and not try at all.

Little setbacks and small learning curves are rife in technology. But the benefits really do outweigh the initial troubles.

It’s been my job to demystify technology to the community, and show that as a blind user myself, technology can be hugely beneficial.

Here are my four best tips for getting someone comfortable with a new piece of technology.

1. Identify the reason they need the technology and find the easiest solution

Technology is a tool like anything else, and like a tool, you need to have a reason to use it. Finding out what task needs to be performed, and then working out through discussion what the most appropriate tool may be, is the starting point.

Eg. A person wants to listen to ABC Radio.

You have a few options here, but I would recommend: a smart speaker.

It’s cost effective, very easy to set up and is voice activated. The user won’t need to toggle nobs to get to another station and it means no one needs to be there to set up pre-sets of your favourite radio stations .

2. Avoid set up frustrations (get it fit for use before the user touches it)

Trialling out the technology is usually the next step. It’s  important that the person is only concerned with using the product, not setting it up. For instance, you don’t need to know how the car was serviced, but know the fact it was and it now drives better.

This might mean connecting the device to the home wifi, setting up a log in, downloading a corresponding app or even charging the device before use.

Eg:  download the corresponding smart speaker app and connect the device to the home wifi

3. Get them to play around without any expectations (encourage mistakes and troubleshoot)

After the initial set up, encourage the person  to play with the device.

Reassure the person that they will make mistakes, and sometimes a bit of trial and error will happen. They may get frustrated, or they may feel like throwing the thing out the window, but as with everything in our lives, it is part of living, and learning.

The key here is to encourage problem solving. Don’t just do it for them, get them to navigate with some clear directions from you.

Eg: Direct them on how to interact with the speaker by giving the right command ie Hey Google, Alexa!, Hey Siri… play ABC radio Melbourne”.

4. Provide instructions (demos, manuals) so they can tackle problems on their own at their own pace

Reassurance that there is help when problems arise is paramount to keeping people on track and not giving up.

Write up instructions, record a demonstration or training session, or provide some links to where to get help online will do wonders. It also encourages people to trial a new device at their own pace.

Training other people in the household is a great way to reassure someone that they can learn and help is available. But be weary that someone can become a bit dependent on that help rather than problem solving themselves.

Eg: Write down instructions on the smart speaker, record demos and give some tips on where things may go a bit awry. Explain to others in the house hold how to assist, and let them know where they can get ongoing help like the Vision Australia Access Technology (AT) team helpline.

Once the person feels comfortable, the new device should be set up in the same way that the trial was, making sure that all is working as expected, and the person can move on to use the device in everyday life.

Remember, tackling a new piece of technology comes with its challenges but it shouldn’t be intimidating.

Most of my job has been helping people overcome their fears and perceived limitations. A bit of encouragement and some good role models make the tech world accessible.


David Woodbridge is Vision Australia’s national assistive technology adviser. He hosts the weekly radio show Talking Tech every Tuesday at 4:30pm AEST on Vision Australia Radio at where he demos and reviews the latest technology from a blindness and low vision perspective.

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About the Author

David Woodbridge

David Woodbridge is a Technology Consultant at Vision Australia where he has worked since 1990. David lost his sight when he was eight years old and had to learn braille. Since then, he completed high school and went to Sydney University receiving a Social Work degree. David is involved in evaluating technology for use by people who are blind or have low vision and as a person who is blind, he believes that he is well situated to look at the strengths and short comings of the assistive technology that he comes across in both his professional and personal life.View author's posts
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